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Valley Perspective

Springtime Among the Weather-Challenged . . . Whatever

Where winter causes no pain, how can its end be an event? There can be no feeling of freedom where there has never been oppression.

May 07, 2000|KIMIT A. MUSTON | Kimit A. Muston is a North Hollywood writer

I woke up recently with a stuffy nose and a crashing headache. Overnight, the bone dry Santa Anna winds had once again slipped down from the high desert intent upon sucking every drop of moisture from my nasal passages.

The hills were golden brown and tinder-dry, brooding over the San Fernando Valley and daring anyone to strike a match. The rosebushes by our front door looked as if their best friend had just died. The leaves on the olive tree were brown and crumbled at the merest touch.

Spring had returned to Southern California.

We live in a strange land with two seasons, dry and damp. It is a place where in August people will pause in the middle of a parking lot to marvel at the appearance of a cloud in the sky. ("What do you think it is?" "I don't know. Maybe it's a balloon.") Here the sky is still and the ground moves. And spring has a different meaning than it does for the rest of the nation.

I grew up in Indiana where spring usually makes a grand entrance for the Indianapolis 500. And if you watch the race on television you will see crowds of young men in the infield with their shirts off, their pale white skin shading to beet red third-degree burns by midafternoon. They act so foolishly because they've been locked up since November behind insulated windows and weatherstripped doors, breathing fumes from car heaters and suffocating under three and four layers of clothing.

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After an average Midwestern winter, the first touch of fresh air on bare flesh causes a kind of insanity: spring fever. Those Midwesterners now living in Southern California who say they miss the turn of the seasons are really speaking of this feeling of sudden freedom. What they forget is the oppression that leads up to it: the constant cold, the feeling of desperate hope engendered the first time you step in a puddle of unfrozen water. The mind suppresses such unpleasantness with time and you do not recall what second-week snow looks like, spotted with black soot and trimmed with car exhausts, or the hours spent in the garage waiting for your car to warm up.

An Eastern winter is confrontational, almost life and death. It is no accident that Southern California invented the phrase, "Whatever." It's a carefree dismissal of fate you can make when winter means drizzle and 40 degrees. Patrick Henry would never had said, "Give me liberty or give me death," if he had been from L.A. He would have said, "Whatever."

The children of the winter, then, are like the youth of Sparta, trained to endure and endure yet more. And living now in L.A., I and my fellow ex-Spartans have been reduced to whining complainers. We get cranky when our tomatoes take a week to redden up. We take it personally when Coastal Eddy brings the June gloom back right on schedule.

How dare the sun not shine in L.A.! We are owed constant summer. We deserve nothing less than the perfect clear blue sky of July and August and September.

October will bring the Santa Anas back, hotter this time and drier and bent upon destruction.

And all of Southern California will wait in anticipation for the rains of January to put the fire season to bed.

Winter is a relief when it arrives. And that makes spring less of an event. There can be no feeling of freedom where there has never been oppression.

It's spring again in L.A. Whatever.

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